Eyes on the Ground: Realizing the potential of civilian-led monitoring in armed conflict

July 2017

Report PDF: EYES ON THE GROUND – Realizing the potential of civilian-led monitoring – Ceasefire July 2017

Technological advances have meant that civilians are now enabled to play a greater role than ever before in monitoring and documenting violations, finds a new report Eyes on the Ground: Realizing the potential of civilian-led monitoring in armed conflict.

As UN rapporteurs and other official international monitors are effectively denied access to a wide range of insecure territories around the world, civilian monitors have become a complementary, and in some cases the principal, source of information on what is happening on the ground to civilian populations.

The recommendations of the report on the strengthening of civilian-led monitoring draw on an expert seminar that took place in Geneva in June 2017, bringing together NGO leaders pioneering civilian-led monitoring in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other armed conflicts with senior representatives from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, Geneva Call, the Institute for International Humanitarian Law, academic and civil society experts and governments with an interest in promoting the implementation of international humanitarian law. As one of the experts commented: ‘The world doesn’t change with more information – but it just might, with good information.’

Civilian-led monitoring has developed on the back of:

  • The huge expansion in popular access to mobile telephony and digital communications;
  • The development of crowd-sourcing, digital mapping and crowd verification techniques, including through the use of open-source programmes;
  • Increased public awareness of human rights standards and IHL standards;
  • Advances in data-mining and news curation using increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence;
  • New opportunities for civil society organisation and activism created through social media;
  • Growing receptiveness of UN, inter-governmental and governmental bodies to information produced by civil society.

The increase in both the quantity and quality of data from civilian sources is also a response to the demand for real-time information and for in-situ monitoring. Traditional human rights and IHL monitoring mechanisms, including investigative rapporteurs and fact-finding missions, remain important but are subject to long time delays, frequent controversy over mandates, and concerns over selective reporting.

Drawing on the experience of a major pilot of civilian-led monitoring in Iraq, this report discusses significant challenges for civilian-led monitoring, including quality control, verification, security of activists and victims, and ethical questions raised by interviewing and documentation undertaken by unqualified activists. The challenges of verifying and authenticating information posted online are exacerbated during armed conflict where the deliberate spread of misinformation has a long history. This report discusses different approaches and techniques to verifying civilian-led monitoring information, including building on the experience developed by large media organizations for assessing user-generated content.

To support the effective deployment and expansion of civilian-led monitoring, this report recommends:

  • Appropriate training and capacity-building for civil-society organizations and activists on the ground in conflict-affected environments, including training on monitoring and documentation techniques, IHL and human rights standards, and cyber security;
  • Development of standardised reporting formats and related technical support in partnership with local civil society or civilian populations, to reflect the linguistic, technological and security situation on the ground;
  • Strengthened protection mechanisms for civilian monitors and other human rights defenders, including improved cyber security infrastructure;
  • Ensuring civilian rights to participate fully in civilian protection, peace-building and transitional justice processes.
SianEyes on the Ground: Realizing the potential of civilian-led monitoring in armed conflict
read more

Ending enforced disappearance: from Baghdad to Belfast

January 2018

Pooling international best practice to support Iraq in ending enforced disappearances was the theme of a combined study and advocacy tour to Belfast and London undertaken by leading Iraqi MPs last month, organized by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights in partnership with the Institute for International Law and Human Rights.

Iraq has faced the recurring problem of enforced disappearances at many times in its recent history, and all Iraq’s communities have been affected. Thousands of people remain missing, even just from the latest phase of the conflict. In 2010 Iraq acceded to the International Convention on Enforced Disappearance but it has yet to enact any implementing legislation.

Following an agreement with the Human Rights Committee of the Iraqi Parliament, Ceasefire and IILHR have provided technical assistance in reviewing draft legislation in line with international standards.

In December, key members and officials of the Iraqi Human Rights Committee responsible for the bill came to London and Belfast to hold discussions with academics specializing in transitional justice from the School of African and Oriental Studies – University of London, Queen’s University Belfast, MPs and Peers, UK Foreign Office officials, relevant NGOs and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (NI).

Photo caption: MPs from the Iraqi delegation meet in Belfast with Ceasefire and IILHR staff and the lead forensic investigator for the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (December 2017)

SianEnding enforced disappearance: from Baghdad to Belfast
read more

Justice for Syria: Small steps forward

July 2017

Recent months have seen a number of small steps forward in the struggle to achieve justice for atrocities committed in Syria. Criminal proceedings are now underway in a number of European countries, including Germany, Sweden and Spain, targeting perpetrators of torture and war crimes in Syria. For the first time, such proceedings target not just opposition fighters, but also senior individuals in Syrian military intelligence.

In a separate development, Catherine Marchi-Uhel of France was appointed this month as the head of the UN independent panel to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the most serious violations of international law in Syria.

With pro bono support from a major international law form, Ceasefire has been undertaking feasibility work to support extra-territorial cases, both criminal and civil, concerning gross violations of the rights of civilians in Syria. [INSERT LINK TO ‘Accountability in Syria’ PAGE] Depending on the national laws in place, cases may be brought in European, North American or other jurisdictions, including those where Syrian perpetrators may have fled or Syrian victims may have sought refuge.

A Step towards Justice: Current accountability options for crimes under international law committed in Syria was the first report to offer a detailed examination of the mechanisms available to deliver justice to the Syrian people while the conflict goes on.

Drawing on comprehensive legal analysis, the joint report by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) evaluates the potential avenues towards securing accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, including massacres of civilians, indiscriminate aerial bombardment, enforced disappearances, systematic torture, rape, and the use of children in hostilities.

While there are constraints on the current feasibility of the most prominent mechanisms, including domestic courts and the International Criminal Court, as well as alternative mechanisms such as hybrid tribunals, the use of foreign national courts remains open.

‘European jurisdictions are increasingly prosecuting those charged with supporting ISIS in Syria, but not those from the government side who commit atrocities,’ said Mark Lattimer, Ceasefire’s Director. ‘The challenge now is whether foreign courts or other mechanisms can bring to justice perpetrators from all sides of the conflict, including those with responsibility for the gravest crimes.’

‘Some countries might be able to utilize their domestic jurisdictions to prosecute a few perpetrators,’ said Mohammad Al Abdallah, Executive Director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Center. ‘While this is a good first step towards justice, and may be the only available one at the moment, it is not sufficient and does not respond to the magnitude of the violations occurring in Syria.’

In the context of very widespread impunity in Syria, a strategic approach to pursuing available accountability options is urgently needed. Improving the capacity of Syrians to document, prepare and bring cases will also prepare the ground for any larger, more comprehensive justice and reconciliation process in the future.

SianJustice for Syria: Small steps forward
read more

Raqqa: Will the lessons from Mosul be learnt in time?

July 2017

As US-led coalition forces in partnership with a non-state armed group, the Syrian Democratic Forces, continue their attempt to take Raqqa from ISIS control, up to 200,000 civilians remain at risk, including some 70,000 inside the city.

In June the chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria warned that the intensification of coalition air strikes had already led to a ‘staggering loss of civilian life’. Syrian human rights groups have recorded some 1,400 civilian deaths in total over the last eight months including those from air strikes, artillery fire, and hundreds killed by ISIS on the ground.

The pattern of killing in Raqqa is tragically beginning to resemble that during the nine-month assault on Mosul in neighbouring Iraq, which ended this month.

A survey of recent practice by Iraqi and international coalition forces published by the Ceasefire Centre at the start of the Mosul campaign warned then that the lives of thousands of civilians were at critical risk.

Report PDF: Civilian protection in the battle for Mosul: critical priorities

Civilian protection in the battle for Mosul: Critical priorities found that recent precedents from military operations to retake Iraqi cities from ISIS control, including Tikrit, Ramadi, Fallujah and Sinjar, demonstrate a pattern of repeated failures to implement sufficient measures for civilian protection, both in the conduct of hostilities and in planning for the humanitarian consequences. In the event, thousands of civilians were killed in Mosul and, according to the most recent figure from the International Organization for Migration, over one million were displaced.

In particular, the imposition of siege tactics on ISIS-held cities and the intensive bombardment of urban areas by international coalition forces has combined with the ISIS tactic of using ‘human shields’ to result in thousands of civilian casualties and high levels of civilian suffering.

The operation to encircle Raqqa and lay siege to the city threatens to concentrate the battle in neighbourhoods that remain heavily populated with civilians.

All parties to the conflict should adhere at all times to their obligations under international humanitarian law, including ensuring respect for the fundamental principle of distinction, prohibiting indiscriminate attacks, and taking all feasible precautions to avoid, or in any event minimise, civilian death or injury or damage to civilian objects.

SianRaqqa: Will the lessons from Mosul be learnt in time?
read more

Thousands of civilians now at risk in Mosul assault – new report

October 2016

Report PDF: Civilian protection in the battle for Mosul: critical priorities

The lives of thousands of civilians are at critical risk in the assault on Mosul, a new survey of recent practice by Iraqi and international coalition forces finds.

Civilian protection in the battle for Mosul: Critical priorities finds that recent precedents from military operations to retake Iraqi cities from ISIS control, including Tikrit, Ramadi, Fallujah and Sinjar, demonstrate a pattern of repeated failures to implement sufficient measures for civilian protection, both in the conduct of hostilities and in planning for the humanitarian consequences. Unless those failures are addressed, thousands of civilians are at risk of being killed in Mosul.

Since 2014, ISIS has deliberately targeted civilians on numerous occasions, but parties on both sides of the conflict, including the Iraqi Security Forces and allied Popular Mobilisation Units, are responsible for:

  • launching indiscriminate attacks, which fail to distinguish between military objectives and civilians or civilian objects;
  • the use of prohibited weapons, and attacks on places of special protection, including hospitals and medical facilities;
  • the recruitment of child soldiers; and
  • the inhumane treatment of detained civilians and fighters hors de combat in violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, including murder, mutilation, cruel treatment, torture and unfair trials.

This conduct, together with the imposition of siege tactics on ISIS-held cities and the intensive bombardment of urban areas by Iraqi and international coalition forces, has combined with the ISIS tactic of using ‘human shields’ to result in thousands of civilian casualties and high levels of civilian suffering, the report says.

The failure to ensure humanitarian access as well as safe corridors for population flight has also been compounded by the imposition on IDPs by Iraqi and Kurdish authorities of discriminatory documentation, screening and entry procedures at check-points and governorate border crossings.

In the context of military operations to retake Mosul, this report recommends:

  • Members of the international coalition, including the US, UK and France, should take greater collective responsibility for ending gross violations committed by the Iraqi forces to which they provide operational military support; and should establish a civilian casualty tracking cell in Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve to ensure civilian casualties are acknowledged promptly and investigated rapidly and transparently;
  • The Iraqi Security Forces and allied militias should actively suppress revenge attacks and collective punishments inflicted by their forces on communities perceived to have supported ISIS and ensure the perpetrators of any such attacks are held accountable;
  • All parties to the conflict should adhere at all times to their obligations under international humanitarian law, including ensuring respect for the fundamental principle of distinction, and their obligations under international human rights law.
SianThousands of civilians now at risk in Mosul assault – new report
read more

Civilian deaths in the anti-ISIS bombing campaigns 2014 – 2015

November 2015

Report PDF: Civilian deaths in the anti ISIS bombing campaigns

Over 4,000 civilians have been killed in the anti-ISIS bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria during 2014 – 2015, according to available monitoring information based on credible local sources. The majority of these deaths, over 2,800, resulted from often indiscriminate bombardment by the Iraqi Security Forces. Hundreds of other civilians have been killed in anti-ISIS airstrikes carried out by members of the US-led international coalition, by the Syrian Air Force, and more recently by Russian forces, among others.

Civilian populations in Fallujah and other cities in western and northern Iraq, and in Raqqa, Aleppo and other areas of eastern and northern Syria, have been subjected to an unremitting and often indiscriminate bombardment, including the use of barrel bombs, that has left residential areas destroyed and caused extensive damage to schools, hospitals and mosques.

The international coalition is conducting airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria in support of the Iraqi government’s struggle against ISIS and cites the collective self-defence of Iraq as the primary justification for its use of force under international law. Intelligence from Iraqi security forces on the ground is used to inform the targeting of international coalition strikes, and military training, intelligence and equipment, including American F16 fighter aircraft, are supplied by members of the coalition to Iraqi forces. Under the circumstances, there is a serious failure to take any collective responsibility for the unacceptable rates of civilian casualties.

The prevention of future civilian casualties is being impeded by the failure by all parties to the conflict to acknowledge civilian deaths and investigate them transparently. In respect of the international coalition, failures in transparency represent a marked deterioration from recent practice in other conflicts.

This report recommends:

  • All credible allegations of civilian casualties should be subject to an effective, prompt, thorough and impartial investigation, and the results made transparent, with a view to suppressing breaches of international humanitarian law and violations of human rights and securing reparation for victims and their families;
  • The international coalition should seek to ensure that both its individual members, and the Iraqi Security Forces it supports, prohibit attacks targeted at civilians or civilian objects, prohibit indiscriminate attacks and take all feasible precautions to avoid or at least minimise civilian death or injury;

Any decision to undertake further military action should put in place adequate mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the action according to its effect on the civilian population.

SianCivilian deaths in the anti-ISIS bombing campaigns 2014 – 2015
read more

As atrocities continue to mount in Syria, new report reveals potential options for securing justice during the conflict

May 2015

As atrocities continue to mount in Syria, A Step towards Justice: Current accountability options for crimes under international law committed in Syria is the first report to offer a detailed examination of the mechanisms available to deliver justice to the Syrian people while the conflict goes on.

Drawing on comprehensive legal analysis, the joint report by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) evaluates the potential avenues towards securing accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, including massacres of civilians, indiscriminate aerial bombardment, enforced disappearances, systematic torture, rape, and the use of children in hostilities.

While there are constraints on the current feasibility of the most prominent mechanisms, including domestic courts and the International Criminal Court, as well as alternative mechanisms such as hybrid tribunals, the use of foreign national courts remains open.

‘European jurisdictions are increasingly prosecuting those charged with supporting ISIS in Syria, but not those from the government side who commit atrocities,’ said Mark Lattimer, Ceasefire’s Director. ‘The challenge now is whether foreign courts or other mechanisms can bring to justice perpetrators from all sides of the conflict, including those with responsibility for the gravest crimes.’

‘Some countries might be able to utilize their domestic jurisdictions to prosecute a few perpetrators,’ said Mohammad Al Abdallah, Executive Director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Center. ‘While this is a good first step towards justice, and may be the only available one at the moment, it is not sufficient and does not respond to the magnitude of the violations occurring in Syria over the past four years.’

The report examines the practical and ethical challenges of the various accountability mechanisms currently available. By providing recommendations to better inform the international community’s role in securing accountability under international law, the report helps to guide the next step towards justice in Syria.

The report’s findings will be discussed at a meeting at the American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Human Rights in Washington DC on Tuesday 12 May from 2:00PM – 3:00 PM (EDT) with:

Chair: Honorable Patricia Wald, former Chief Judge, US Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit. A former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, she is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Mark Lattimer, Director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights

Mohammed Al Abdallah, Executive Director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre

Jennifer Trahan, Associate Clinical Professor at the Center for Global Affairs, New York University

 

SianAs atrocities continue to mount in Syria, new report reveals potential options for securing justice during the conflict
read more

Ceasefire sounds the alarm at the United Nations on Iraq’s displacement crisis

As the assault on Fallujah was causing tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes, the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights joined partners at the UN Human Rights Council on 20 June to sound the alarm about Iraq’s displacement crisis.

At a packed side event in the Palais des Nations in Geneva, delegates were addressed by Dr Chaloka Beyani, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Ms Kate Gilmore, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, and representatives of Iraqi civil society. The event was chaired by Ceasefire’s Mark Lattimer, who emphasized that the opportunities offered by the re-taking of ISIS territory were being lost as local communities and IDPs faced continuing insecurity, including targeting by militia forces.

The number of IDPs in Iraq now exceeded 3.4 million, but the humanitarian response plan was only one quarter funded, he added.

The event coincided with the publication of a new report, Iraq’s Displacement Crisis: security and protection. The report finds that intimidation and harassment of IDPs based on their origin are common and increasing in areas of displacement. With the UN lacking funding and the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government under both military and economic strain, the protection of human rights and provision of humanitarian assistance have been gravely compromised, says the report, which is based on extensive interviews with IDPs carried out in Baghdad, central and northern Iraq over the last six months.

The event was jointly organised by Ceasefire in partnership with MRG, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Gulf Center for Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

In an incisive intervention, the UN Special Rapporteur Dr Beyani raised concerns about the limits on freedom of movement for IDPs, heightening the insecurity they faced.

“Monitoring and documentation are essential tasks for addressing the violations … People then cannot say they did not know”

– Kate Gilmore, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

SianCeasefire sounds the alarm at the United Nations on Iraq’s displacement crisis
read more

No Way Home: Iraq’s minorities on the verge of disappearance

May 2016

No Way Home: Iraq’s minorities on the verge of disappearance seeks to document the situation of Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities most affected by the violence that escalated after the fall of Mosul in June 2014. It is published by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, jointly with Minority Rights Group International, the International Institute for Law and Human Rights, No Peace Without Justice and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO).

Since June 2014, many thousands of persons belonging to minorities have been murdered, maimed or abducted, including unknown numbers of women and girls forced into marriage or sexual enslavement. ISIS forces and commanders have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide, including summary executions, killing, mutilation, rape, sexual violence, torture, cruel treatment, the use and recruitment of children, outrages on personal dignity, and the use of chemical weapons.

Cultural and religious heritage dating back centuries continues to be destroyed, while property and possessions have been systematically looted. These abuses are ongoing at the time of writing and appear to be part of a conscious attempt to eradicate Iraq’s religious and ethnic diversity. It should also be stressed that as the latest phase in the conflict reaches a two-year benchmark, forces fighting ISIS have also apparently committed human rights and international humanitarian law violations, including Iraqi Security Forces, Popular Mobilization Units and Kurdish Peshmerga.

The millions of displaced still remain in camps, and there are no serious returns to areas retaken from ISIS. As of March 2016, internal displacement exceeded 3.3 million. Iraqi sources estimate the total number of those who have lost their homes and are internally displaced at more than 4 million, factoring in those IDPs not registered.

Currently, there appears to be no serious Iraqi or international effort to build the political, social and economic conditions for the sustainable return of those who lost homes and livelihoods as a result of the conflict. Militias and unscrupulous local authorities are exploiting this vacuum.

This report is called ‘No Way Home’ to highlight the despair Iraqi ethnic and religious communities feel about prospects for return. This perspective is rooted both in a sense of hopelessness about the prospect of return and frustration with the continued deterioration of humanitarian conditions. There is a lack of trust that the government, regional actors, local officials or the international community will provide the necessary support to facilitate returns, locate missing persons, provide justice, facilitate the difficult process of reconciliation and ensure the return of looted possessions and homes. The result will be another Iraqi lost generation, radicalized by homelessness and depredation, repeating the cycle

SianNo Way Home: Iraq’s minorities on the verge of disappearance
read more

Iraq’s Displacement Crisis: Security and protection

March 2016

Since the present displacement crisis began in January 2014 with the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham (ISIS), the humanitarian emergency in Iraq has become more severe. The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq now stands at 3.2 million, while more than 8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. With the UN lacking funding and the Government of Iraq and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) under both military and economic strain, the protection of human rights and provision of humanitarian assistance have been gravely compromised.

Iraq’s Displacement Crisis: security and protection provides an up-to date overview of the situation of IDPs in Iraq since the ISIS onslaught and resulting conflict, including not only forced displacement committed by ISIS but also that perpetrated by other armed groups, including government forces. The report also explores the facilitation of IDP returns to areas of origin. Due to poor living conditions in areas of displacement, many families are seeking to return even though the situation in their area of origin may not have improved. Almost without exception, however, liberated areas are in need of better security, reconstruction of basic infrastructure and the resumption of public services.

Two years on, social tensions are rising in both areas of displacement and areas of return. With new population movements and territorial control shifting between armed groups, host communities and authorities are under greater pressure. Intimidation and harassment of IDPs based on their origins are common and increasing in areas of displacement. Communities who find themselves in areas where they are a religious, ethnic or linguistic minority live in fear of physical assault and discrimination.

In the context of limited governance and continued insecurity, the opportunity afforded by the retaking of territory from ISIS is being lost. If communities are unable to co-exist, Iraq may soon reach a point beyond repair. Post-liberation strategies are therefore urgently required that are comprehensive in addressing security needs but are also aimed at reconciliation, reparation and re-establishing the rule of law.

This report recommends:

  • The Government of Iraq and the KRG should support the safe passage of IDPs through their territory, with transparent and non-discriminatory entry procedures at governorate borders, as well as accessible registration processes. The arbitrary detention of IDPs should be ended.
  • Iraqi authorities should implement comprehensive measures to support the return and reintegration of IDPs, including infrastructure development, property restitution or compensation, and appropriate security measures. This should be done in partnership with local civil society organizations promoting reconciliation between communities.
  • The international community should provide urgent funding to the UN and other international agencies working with the Iraqi authorities to meet the current funding gap in humanitarian assistance for IDPs. This should include technical and financial assistance for the development of a programme of property restitution and reparations, as well as transitional justice measures.
SianIraq’s Displacement Crisis: Security and protection
read more